Tuesday, October 25, 2005

I'm only going to speak of this once...

Sherron Collins. That name alone seems to be enough to lead to hundreds if not thousands of comments on Illiniboard, Mark Tupper's Blog, Illiniwonk, etc. Chief and I have avoided mentioning anything about Collins and his decision to go to Kansas instead of Illinois because it seems that every possible angle that could be covered was already being discussed on the sites listed above as well as others.

It has been about a week since his announcement and it seems that finally (and I do mean finally!) Illini fans have moved on to other topics of discussion. Now that the bulk of the discussion has wound down, I would like to share a few observations. For the record, this is going to be the only time I address the Sherron Collins issue barring some type of breaking news that needs to be covered.

First, the comments on Illiniboard (and on some of the other sites as well but especially on Illiniboard) were out of control. I don't want to call anyone out by (screen)name but I was beginning to wonder if there were only 2 or maybe 3 rational people left on that board. Please don't take this the wrong way--I love the passion of those of you that post on Illiniboard and certainly appreciate you taking time to read our posts on Illinitalk. However, the amount of negativity that was on that board last week astounds me. I think we need to put all of this into perspective.

Sherron Collins is one, I repeat one, recruit. We lost him--so be it. Move on. I realize that Illini fans may be a little sensitive about this because of past recruiting prospects that have been lost--Livingston, Wright, Scheyer. These, however, were not Weber's fault. Livingston and Wright were making decisions before Weber had the chance to establish himself. Scheyer wanted to go to Duke since he was a little kid--it is tough to win when you are fighthing that.

We all need to realize that the Illinois basketball program has had a lot of head coaching changes over the past few years. Recruits want to know there is going to be some stability at the top and consistent success. I believe Weber has brought stability and so far he is doing pretty well on the success front too! I am not trying to make excuses for past recruiting losses--I just want to make sure we all have some perspective on it. As for Collins, yes it was disappointing to lose him, but by most accounts, Illinois did everything they could to get him to become an Illini. Why did he end up choosing Kansas? Hard to say for sure. It seems strange that if he liked the Illini as much as everyone said he did that he wouldn't even go ahead and make his official visit. However, if you are going to make accusations, as some have, that something was done "under the table" then someone needs to find some proof. Otherwise, let's give Self his credit and congratulate him for being one heck of a recruiter (whether you like his methods or not). The fact is Self is a great recruiter but not as great of a coach based on recent performances with both Illinois and Kansas. Weber is a great coach based on his performances with SIU and Illinois while his ability as a recruiter, in my view, has yet to be determined.

I believe the next couple of years will tell the tale in terms of Weber's ability to recruit. If we lose out on Gordon, Rose, and others like them for the '07 and '08 classes, then I think there will be cause for concern. However, '07 and '08 are when the benefits of this past season should really start to show themselves. Also, keep in mind that Weber has some solid big men coming in next year and, by all accounts, there is some good potential amongst this year's freshman even though none of them were so called 5 stars. Some 5 stars turn out to be duds and some 3 stars turn out to be superstars. As evidenced by Deron and Luther, you just never know how a recruit is going to turn out.

I guess when it comes down to it, all I am asking is that we give Weber some more time and cut him some slack. I think he has earned it after two consecutive Big 10 Conference Titles, a Big 10 Tournament Championship, a Sweet 16, a National Championship Runner-up, and a 37-2 season. Keep in mind, it takes time to build an elite program. Illinois is not there yet but we are a very good to great program with the potential to get to that level.

Finally, let me say a few brief words to our Kansas friends out there. First, this back and forth between Illinois and Kansas is getting tiresome (on both sides). Why don't you worry about Kansas and we will worry about Illinois? And yes I know there are some people on our side that need to take that same advice. Let's see how the next few years play out and then we can decide who has bragging rights. However, I do have one final comment for all you Jayhawks. Let's talk about elite programs for a moment. Which programs are and are not elite can change from decade to decade.

Few people would question that UCLA and Indiana were once considered elite but that is no longer the case (not that they couldn't become elite again). Likewise, Duke was not considered elite before Coach K showed up and who knows what will happen once he leaves. North Carolina had some rough times after Dean Smith left. There are very few programs that have been consistently elite throughout NCAA history. Kentucky might be able to make the best case of anyone in that regard but even they had a down decade or so. For a list of NCAA Champions, runners-up, and Final Four Teams, click here.

My point is that there are very few elite teams at any given time and maintaining that level is very difficult. In today's NCAA, I think you can clearly say that Duke, North Carolina, and Kentucky are elite. Recent history also bodes well for Arizona, UConn, and Michigan State. All of these schools have won at least one recent championship and been to multiple final fours. Kansas--not so much. Yes they were in the Final Four in 2002 and runners-up in 2003 but no championships. Kansas has won two National Championships total, one in 1952 and one in 1988. There are a lot of schools on the Championship list that have won two titles or more. It also seems to me that Kansas has been quite the bracktbuster lately with early losses in the tournament. With all do respect to Kansas' rich history (which they definitely have), the notion that Kansas is on the same elite level as Duke, North Carolina, and Kentucky is just not supported by the facts. If you want to argue that you are considered "more elite" than Illinois, then fine. I can live with that for now. As I said earlier, let's see what happens over the next few years and then we can have this discussion again.

Bits and Pieces from the news:

Some good comments about Luther Head and Deron Williams in the Chicago Tribune (Don't let the title of the article fool you. Keep reading). If you get praise as a rookie from Jerry Sloan (who is one of the all-time great basketball coaches and one of my favorites), that is saying something. If Deron and Luther perform well in the NBA, that will be nothing but positive for Illinois' basketball recruiting.

The NCAA continues to show a total lack of competency with regards to their Native American mascot/symbol policy. They have denied Bradley University's appeal to continue using the nickname Bradley Braves while at the same time commending them for making their mascot a bobcat. Apparently, the NCAA feels that the word Braves is hostile and abusive. This does not bode well for Illinois' appeal but what else is new when it comes to the NCAA.

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